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Alcoholism and Codependency

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

March 19, 2019

Codependency is a disorder in which an individual relies heavily on the mental and physical dependence of a relationship that is dysfunctional or detrimental to that individual’s well-being. Codependency can be heightened by a variety of substances, with alcoholism and alcohol abuse nearing the top of that list.

Alcoholism is not unusual in the United States. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), over 15 million Americans suffer from alcohol use disorder. Of those suffering from alcohol use disorder, only 1.3 million adults reported seeking treatment at a specialized facility for their addiction. There is a fine line between what is a casual, recreational habit and what constitutes abuse when it comes to alcohol. It is important to define that line for your own drinking habits, and vital to seek help if that line is crossed.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a serious addiction that affects millions of Americans. When it comes to the various categories of alcohol use disorder, alcoholism is on the more serious end of the spectrum. Alcoholism is not defined by the amount of alcohol of frequency of its consumption, but rather the behavior associated with its consumption. Individuals suffering from alcoholism may find that they are unable to control when or how much they drink, and they may feel symptoms of withdrawal when not consuming alcohol. In these instances, the destructive behavior is truly where this disease takes a toll.

It is important to understand that alcoholism is considered a disease, and not just a bad habit or lack of willpower. It is seen more frequently in adults with a history of childhood abuse or trauma, however can affect an individual of any background, race, age, or gender.

Alcoholism vs Alcohol Abuse

The body of knowledge surrounding the mechanism of addiction and addiction treatment is constantly growing. In years past, there was a defined difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Alcoholism was considered a more severe form of alcohol abuse and was usually defined by an individual no longer having control over how often or how much they consumed. Signs of alcohol abuse generally included taking extreme risks while consuming alcohol, such as mixing alcohol with other drugs or committing dangerous or illegal acts while under the influence of alcohol.

In clinical terms, alcoholism and alcohol abuse now fall under the single category of “alcohol use disorder.” Alcohol use disorders are categorized as mild, moderate or severe, based on criteria defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

No matter what you call it, alcohol abuse can be destructive to your lifebut it is possible to turn things around. Individuals who suffer from an alcohol use disorder find it easy to make excuses to drink, such as a method of relaxation or a reward for hard work. Finding alternatives to alcohol as a reward can help you or a loved one take back control of your life.

Signs of Alcoholism

Alcoholism can very seriously affect an individual’s life in many ways. Often times alcoholics may jeopardize friendships, careers, relationships, and their futures due to the control alcohol can have on their lives.

Other signs of alcoholism include:

  • Missing financial deadlines, such as rent payments, in order to buy more alcohol
  • Allowing alcohol to overcome other personal responsibilities
  • Lying to family members to cover up a drinking problem
  • Inability to stop yourself from consuming alcohol
  • Symptoms of withdrawal from lack of alcohol
  • High tolerance for alcohol
  • The ability to function normally after large amounts of alcohol

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What is Codependency?

In a relationship where one party suffers from a substance abuse problem, studies have shown their partners tend to also become dependent on their affected partner and their habits, even though they do not suffer from the substance dependency itself. This is known as codependency.

While codependency can be apparent in relationships that suffer from other forms of substance abuse, it is most common in those that suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Individuals that are codependent on their addicted partner commonly enable their partner to continue their habits, even if they don’t realize it.

Studies show that codependency is a learned behavior, meaning that an individual is more likely to take on traits of codependency if they have witnessed another codependent relationship previously. A good example of this would be if an individual grew up with one parent codependent on the other, that individual would be at a higher risk of putting themselves in another codependent relationship.

Signs of Codependency

Codependency is a term commonly associated with spouses of alcoholics, however it can be applied to anyone who has a relationship with a substance abuser. Parents, roommates, siblings, and friends can also be placed a position of codependency depending on the situation.

Codependency should not be seen as a chosen obligation, but rather something that is socially constructed with some individuals at greater risk to suffer from it than others.

Some signs of codependency can include:

  • A fear of being alone
  • A constant need for approval from their partner
  • Taking on full responsibility for their partner’s actions
  • Lying to family members
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships
  • Feelings of guilt when acting independent of their partner
  • Acts of enabling their partner’s habits
  • Difficulty identifying their own hobbies and enjoyment

Get Help for Alcoholism and Codependency

Alcoholism and codependency can be a difficult combination to overcome and can be detrimental to relationships and family life. If you or a loved one is suffering from a form of alcohol dependence or codependency, you are not alone.

Our rehab centers specialize in alcohol treatment plans designed specifically for partners and individuals suffering from alcoholism and codependency. As these are addictions that affect mental, physical, and emotional aspects of an individual’s life, our inpatient rehab centers focus on treating these aspects as well.

Get the help you need, contact us today.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism - Alcohol Facts and Statistics

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Alcohol and Public Health - The Codependency Idea: When Caring Becomes a Disease

American Psychological Association - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment

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